Day 103. 113 pages, 48,345 words.
They started back down the promenade curve, Gyden’s ears providing the only illumination. It was more than sufficient to show the ghostly melted non-texture of the wall on their left, and a suggestion of the opposite wall and ceiling as well. Predericon would have preferred to use her lamp, but conceded to Gyden’s experience. If the inhabitants of Segment Thirteen didn’t like light, then it was a good idea not to upset them unnecessarily.
Still, there was something that was bothering Predericon. And she couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was.
“Do you live in that … elevator room?” she asked in a low voice as they walked.
“Some of the time,” Gyden replied. “There are some other chambers and serieses of chambers that are mostly safe. But most of the time I live on the move. The less time you spend in one place down here, generally speaking, the better.”
“It was … very tidy,” she said, lamely.
“I’m my father’s daughter.”
“That’s not what I-” Predericon started, then sighed inaudibly. Of course Gyden knew that wasn’t what she meant.
Gyden half-turned back towards her, teeth gleaming blue-green as she grinned. “Are you asking me where the facilities are, Akmet?”
“Actually, I haven’t needed to pass waste since … well, since I digested the last of my rations,” she said.
“Since you started your Bookwyrm diet, you mean,” Gyden said. Predericon made a low affirmative sound. “And that doesn’t worry you?”
“No more or less than the fact that I’ve been eating it does,” Predericon said calmly. “In fact, it stands to reason that there wouldn’t be anything in it that wasn’t absorbed by my body, so waste would be difficult to explain. What about you?”
“I process waste like a real person,” Gyden said in amusement. “The swarm – the things that took Lelhmak – usually take care of it, depending on where I am at the time. I try to avoid shitting in my living space, of course.”
“Fair enough,” Predericon said. “Wait,” she added as a thought occurred to her. “Why are we – have you tried going back up?”
“Up into the archives?” Gyden said, and shook her head. “I’d sit in the main room there from time to time, and watch the Bookwyrm … basking, or whatever it did in the datalight.”
“Did you ever see me?”
“No,” Gyden said. “You can really only see the direct circle where it intersects with Segment Twelve … but after a while, I stopped. I didn’t like being near the opening to the other promenade.”
“In any case, it was too high for me to try to jump.”
“It shouldn’t be too high for us to lift each other,” Predericon pointed out.
Gyden glanced back at her again. “That’s true,” she allowed. “We can try … but there’s no more way out up through the lower archives than there is down through the promenade. I’ll grant you, going back up might be the safest alternative,” she went on before Predericon could respond, “but have you thought about how the Bookwyrm might react to you coming back, after it sent you down here?”
“Probably sent me down here,” Predericon qualified.
“Probably,” Gyden agreed. “Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try – it’s definitely an option, now that there’s two of us. But there are a few things down here that might be worth trying now that there’s two of us as well,” she turned and continued down the passageway. “Plus,” she added, “I was pretty faded by the time I dropped through, but I remember that last half-second of light just about unscrewed my face and punched me in the brain. I’m not particularly keen to try it again unless we have no choice.”
“I thought of that too,” Predericon acknowledged. “In fact, I got the impression it would be even more hazardous in the wrong direction. But we can consider it.”
“Yeah,” Gyden said, “we can consid – get back.”
Her voice dropped abruptly to a breath, she stepped back and flattened herself against the wall, and her ears went out. Predericon did her best to mimic her friend’s silent motion, pressing herself against the hard surface in the pitch black and waiting, barely breathing, until she got the all-clear.
It seemed to take forever, but Predericon clenched her jaw and refused to make the foolish mistake of asking whether it was alright. Just as the smothering darkness and silence became intolerable, Predericon felt the air in the corridor move. Something – something that sounded like it was right in front of her nose – made a low, guttural sound like guuunnf, and then receded again. Still Predericon waited.
“Alright,” Gyden’s voice came from rather further away down the corridor than Predericon had been expecting, and she turned her head to see the little lights of Gyden’s ears returning to muted illumination some thirty or thirty-five metres away. She hurried to join her.
“What are you doing all the way down here?” she hissed.
“Better to put some distance between us,” Gyden said. “That way if one of us freaks out and makes a noise, we don’t both get eaten.”
“You mean me,” Predericon accused. “If I freak out and make a noise, you don’t get eaten.”
“That’s not entirely accurate,” Gyden argued. “I was also worried the stink of your backpack might set her off.”
Predericon sighed. “What was it?” she asked, then amended, “she?”
“No idea,” Gyden said. “I normally feel her coming, like pressure on my eyeballs. I think she could be telepathic as well. I mean, a purely telepathic presence, but not like the darkness. Separate from it. She’s not really physical, in any case, I think. Your brain just translates her that way. Which isn’t to say getting eaten wouldn’t still be a very real thing. You didn’t feel anything?”
“Not on my eyeballs,” Predericon admitted. “Just a shift in the air, and a grunt, and a sort of cold feeling.”
“Mm,” Gyden agreed, “cold, that’s what I normally get too. For the strangest reason, I think about Ogres when she passes through. You know, the big old Pinian shock troops? It’s like … some kind of telepathic ghost of an Ogre, just sort of poking around in our minds. I feel like she’s trapped down here, just like we are, and doesn’t understand why.”
“Usually when Ogres don’t understand things, they get angry,” Predericon commented.
Gyden chuckled. “That’s why I try to stay out of her way.”
She flicked her ears, and together they continued on downwards.